24.5.11

The Hardest Blog I have had to write...

Right now, my stomach is turning.  It's turning because unlike other things I have wrote, this is not a light-hearted piece filled with humour and mirth.  I wish it was, because that would make it more palatable.  But what I am writing today is probably going to offend some people that I love and care for.  It is probably going to hurt the feelings of people whom I never want to offend.  God, I pray that my words are your words.  I pray that people read this with an open heart and a mind open to you...

Oliver Cowdery is a big part of Mormon History.  He was a scribe for Joseph Smith as Mr. Smith wrote the Book of Mormon.  He was there when various witnesses saw the Golden plates, as well as "heavenly visitations" from supposed angels confirming the "genuineness" of Joseph Smith's supposed visions.  He was an early apostle, and influential in the printing of the Book of Mormon.  He later left the LDS church, leaving his church membership behind.

After a period of years of animosity between him and the church leadership at the time, he came back.  Tail tucked firmly between his legs, he was rebaptised.  It is often quoted about how in spite of leaving the church, in spite of talking about against various leaders in the church, he never denied what he saw, nor that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.  And this vision of the believing apostate seems permanently burned into the mind of every believing member of the L.D.S. church.

Ever since then, there is this strange belief among many LDS members that people rarely leave because of the LDS doctrine, or that they rarely deny the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith as a prophet.  It is almost as if Cowdery's "apostasy" is the template for every other person who leaves the Mormon ranks.  Rather than accept that people come to the conclusion that the church can't be true, they believe that most people leave because they were offended by something someone said, or because it was "too hard" to live the L.D.S. lifestyle.  This then escalates into a belief that people leave the Mormon church because of issues of pride.  And that if one were more humble, then he would never have left the Mormon church in the first place.

Oh how I wish this were the case!  LOL!  My parents went inactive for years because of offense.  My parents used to help out with a Luau that our church held every year as a fundraiser (this was before the church banned local fundraisers...)  for youth to go to E.F.Y.  That Sunday, our bishop stood up and gave a list of all the people he was thankful for, as they did so much for the Luau.  In that list, my parent's names were omitted.  My mother was furious!  My dad had driven around picking up papier mache palm trees, while my mom single-handedly led the kitchen in cooking and preparing all of the food.  My mom never forgave that bishop, and didn't return to church for years.  So yeah, some people do leave because of offence. 

So yes, some people do stop going to church because someone was rude to them, or because their pride was hurt.  But here's the thing: don't dismiss the stories of those who leave because of a few who left for the sake of their egos.  There are many who have left the church because they realised that the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not the church of God.  In fact, for some of us, leaving destroys our lives, and is done out of humility, not arrogance.

I left the church four years ago now.  I had just come back to Utah, after having destroyed my life thanks to pornography and lying.  I came back to reconnect with my family, and to reconnect with God.  One of the first things I did on coming back was attend church, and set up a meeting with the local bishop to try and make recompense for my transgressions.  I was prepared for excommunication, so that I might come back as a member of the Mormon church in good standing.  In a rare moment of courage for me, I was ready to take all the lumps I deserved.  As I attended church, I prayed to God to help me to change.  In return, I promised to do anything He asked of me.

While this was going on, I started dating a girl who was not LDS.  She was a Christian.  And for Easter, she invited me to her church.  I decided to go, not because I was seeking something else, but because I hoped that in turn she would come to church with me, and I could eventually invite her to take the discussions.  My intentions were to "flirt to convert", if you will...

On a sidenote, the girl I was dating had a very outspoken friend who desparately wanted me to leave the church and become a Christian.  We didn't talk that many times, but when we did, she bombarded me with the usual anti-Mormon rhetoric.  I patronised her, listening patiently.  But all the while, inside I felt sorry that she didn't know the "truth" about Joseph Smith and the Mormon church.  And every attack she had, I felt confident she was deluded.  Boy, was I arrogant!

And then, the Friday before Easter came.  I went to a church unlike anything I had every experienced!  Everyone was dressed casually, no suits, no dresses.  The music was loud and raucous.  People danced to the music, their arms held high in the air.  As the pastor spoke they shouted out "amens" and "hallelujahs".  I hated it.  But then the pastor talked about Christ's crucifixion, about his sacrifice for us.  He talked about the grace offered to all who believe.  He spoke in length about how faith in God alone was the terms of salvation.  And as much as my 34 years of Mormon indoctrination tried to fight against it, I knew there was something here.  I cried.  As I listened to this man describe God's love for us, I cried.

A few days later, as I was praying to confirm that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon was true, God showed me something I had never considered.  A Mormon Prophet has never apologised for making a mistake.  In fact, the church teaches that a prophet will be struck down before he could lead his people astray.  As I thought about this fact, I thought about how Moses killed a man.  I thought about how Abraham lied (at least twice!) about his wife being his sister.  I thought about how Jonah was swallowed by a whale because he was afraid to do what God commanded.  I thought about how David slept with another man's wife.  I thought about how Peter denied Christ.  I thought about the feud between Peter and Paul.  As I thought about God, I was reminded that the bible is the story of imperfect people, people who mess up and screw up, and go astray all the time.  But in spite of their mistakes, they are forgiven and loved by their God.

Then I thought about the Mormon church.  I thought about how vehemently we defend our prophets, giving them some sort of claim to infallability.  I thought about how the church never admitted to Mountain Meadows, how they never once admitted that previous prophets might have made big mistakes.  As the days went by, I tried to ignore this thought.  But it kept coming back.  Over and over.  And over again.  If the church really is true, then why does it go to such lengths to hide the mistakes of its leaders, when the bible goes to such great lengths to point out the mistakes of leaders from the past?

This led me to question other things: the need for Pharisee-like adherence when the sacrament was blessed, or when a baptism was performed.  Would God really reject a baptism because a single hair floated up?  Would God consider my sacramental covenant null and void because the sixteen year old reciting the blessing left out a "thee"?

Over the next few weeks, I found myself questioning the church more and more.  Why is adherence to the Word of Wisdom required for temple attendance, but eating meat in the summer is allowed?  This led to bigger questions: were blacks really forbidden the priesthood because of God, or was this a mistake of man's that the church hasn't admitted?  Why did the church wait until the I.R.S. threatened them before rescinding it?  If D&C teaches that polygamy is an eternal principle, then why did the L.D.S. church rescind it, right as they were told they had to, in order for Deseret to acheive statehood. 

And this led to the big question: was I willing to leave the church?  Was I willing to offend my family, my friends, my former mission colleagues, my neighbours?  Was I willing to leave behind everything I knew, in order to follow God?  Arrogant?  Prideful?  At that moment, I was broken, humbled, I was scared!  I begged God to show me that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon was true.  But God took that moment of humility (my natural state of being is pride, so this was truly a moment where I was humbled) and laid out that the Mormon church was not his church.  I was heart-broken.  I was scared.  And in terms of myself, I felt so alone!

But as I continued to pray, I felt peace.  God promised me that if I followed him, I would find joy.  He promised me that He would not leave me in the emotional ocean I was swimming in.  He would not let me drown.  A few days later, I met with the assistant Pastor to discuss the things I was feeling.  Over the course of a few months, and hundreds of questions, I came to the realisation of who God was.  God was an eternal being, not an exalted man.  He was without beginning or end, and was always God.  God loved me, even when I sinned, and was merely waiting for me to return to Him.  He showed me that I didn't have to earn heaven.  Things like works and baptism and such were the results of my growing faith in Him, not my pre-requisites to return to Him!  I found myself growing closer to God, my prayers becoming more intimate.  I stopped looking at God as some far-away perfect being, and started looking at Him as something real and tangible, something I felt everywhere I went!

And so I left the Mormon church to become a Christian.  My parents lectured me.  Former friends from my mission stopped talking to me.  I had to unlearn the habits of a lifetime.  I had to change how I thought about salvation, how I thought about others.  I had to change everything that had defined me for over thirty-four years.  It was difficult and painful and wonderful... and worth it!

I am so happy now!  I am so overjoyed and overwhelmed by God every day!  My heart breaks for all of my friends and family who are still Mormon.  I pray for them, hoping that God will reveal to them the same truth He revealed to me.  It breaks my heart when they politely refuse my invitations to church, or choose to ignore my pointed messages about the invalidity of the Mormon church.  It hurts when people tell me that when I humble myself, I will return.  It hurts when people talk about my being a Christian as a phase or a fad.  It is condescending and simple-minded.  As much as you pray for me, I am praying for you, too.

This post is for all my L.D.S. friends and family.  I am asking you to humbly and openly look at the Mormon church.  I am asking you to compare it to the bible, and ask yourself this question: does it fit?  Do the teachings of the bible and the teachings of the church mesh?  But before you answer that question, I have a challenge.  I challenge each of you to read the bible cover to cover.  Put down the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants.  Put down The Ensign and the New Era.  Read the bible by itself from beginning to end, without any study guides or other books.  Don't be afraid to find a bible in an understandable format!  Rather than read it in the King James version, feel free to pick up the New International Version, or the New King James, or the NLT.  I don't care, but find a copy of the bible you can understand, and read it.  As you do, pray about it.  Open your heart to God, and ask Him everyday about the things you have read.  When you are done, see if you still follow the Mormon prophets, or see if God opens your eyes up to something greater, something freeing, something life changing!

God has changed my life!  He has given me peace, and joy, and tranquility.  He has given me a new outlook on life, a greater capacity and desire to love others.  He has filled all the voids, and transformed who I am.  Because of Him, I love and live like I never did before!  God saved me from myself!

I know this post is going to offend.  I know it will be dismissed by some because of who I am, or their relationship with me.  But I truly pray that someone, somewhere will be affected by what I write, and humble themselves enough to hear what God is saying.  I hope this post is received as something I write in love.  I don't write this to boast, or to hurt, or to mock.  I write it because God has changed my life, and I want to share that with each and everyone of my Mormon friends.  I love you.

14.5.11

The Tool Shed

The Tool Shed

When I was a kid, there was one room in the house that was off limits, but that I could never resist sneaking into, and snooping around in. It was a room that was so amazing and so filled with such unique things, that I risked punishment almost daily just to spend a few minutes moping around in there. This room? My dad's garage!

Now, I know that the house truly belonged to my mother and father equally... Well, almost equally. As much as each room was “shared”, I also knew that certain rooms were more mom's domain, or dad's. Mom was the queen of our kitchen, turning out amazing cookies and pies every time she set foot in there. But I also knew that we didn't enter without her permission. And if we did... let's just say that it was here that the phrase “fear of God” really started to mean something. Same for the formal living room that we never went in. Mom kept that rug spotless for when guests would arrive. But we weren't guests, so we NEVER went in there!

As for dad's part of the house? The one area that was truly his, was the garage. He kept his tools out there, his projects. In a way, this was where he stored his hopes and dreams. I know that sounds melodramatic, but my dad is an amazing mechanic and gardener. And the things he truly loved to do and work on were all stored there, neatly arranged on benches hugging the walls of that room. When we had that amazing vegetable garden on 800 North, it was in this room that he stored the seeds and fertilizer (not to mention the hoes and rakes and such) that brought us cucumbers and watermelons and tomatoes and even corn were stored! That garden was tiny, but by utilizing the tools in that shed, he turned out a crop that looked like it should belong on a farm! Amazing!

It wasn't just garden implements in there, either. The garage was also where dad kept his camping equipment, his tools for home repair. And most importantly, this is where he kept his tools for repairing the family cars! (At some point, I will need to go into great length about my obsession with cars. But let's just say, for now, that it all started in that little garage...)

I'll never forget how I would look around at all the tools, amazed that he had so many, each with such a unique shape, some even qualifying as beautiful! Many of the tools were ones that I have now: wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers, etc. Others I hope to get when I finally get a house. I mean, this guy had four or five trimmers alone: one for hedges, one for bushes, one for the edge of the grass, etc.

I remember looking through one of his ammo boxes (that he used to keep screws and such in), and finding this one particularly odd contraption. He had this weird black rubbery/plastic tool-thingy about as big as his thumb, and sort of shaped like it too, that was hollow inside, with all of these long metallic bristles in the opening. As a young one, I assumed it was some sort of torture device! It sure as hell looked like one! It was only in my teens that I learned that this contraption had but one purpose: to clean the leads for a car battery. It was heavy and lunky, and quite an ugly tool. And yet, it's purpose was as important as the gorgeous circular saw dad kept locked up under his long work bench.

Today, many years since I last snuck into the secret world of my father's garage, I was reading a daily devotional in the book Jesus by Beth Moore. I have had this book for almost a year, and haven't really done much with it. But last night and this morning, I felt a need to pick it up and really read it. I was on Day 2 today, when I read the last two sentences that Beth wrote in a prayer to God: “In Your hands and by Your power, You can do through me whatever you desire. May I believe this in ever greater measure.”

In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of how we are the instruments by which the world is changed. He wields us to do His will, His purpose. And man, is that an amazing concept! It is through ME that God will change others' lives. Me. ME. ME! In times where I am humble or insecure, that seems like such a crazy concept. I mean, sure I have a few skills and talents, but God is the God of the universe. Why would he use a broken tool like me. In that same Chapter of Corinthians, we learn that God does this to show His power! After all, if He can change the world using a bunch of rejects like us, then He truly is something amazing and unstoppable!. It is times like this that I marvel at how amazing God is.

But here's the rub. I am not always thinking in such humble terms. Sometimes I am quite proud of the work God has given me. Sometimes I think not that I need Him, but rather that He needs me! I know that is such an arrogant thing to say, but when I am doing J5, there are times I feel that if I don't do it all, then the men of Utah will never be free of sexual sin. As if I am the sexual saviour of this state! I know how arrogant that sounds, believe me. And I am a bit embarrassed to tell you that I sometimes think this way. But, I also know that for the purpose of writing this, I need to be 100% real today.

You see, I am sort of like that car battery cleaner thingy my dad had. I have a very specific purpose, one that I sometimes believe makes me invaluable to the Man in the Garage. After all, without me that 1979 Lincoln would never run. Am I right, or am I right here, peoples? Like that odd-shaped bit of plastic, I forget that I am not the only tool in the shed. And I forget that God has billions of tools in His garage.

A few weeks ago, my car wouldn't start. I tried cleaning the battery with a wire brush, but it wasn't working. I called my dad, hoping he would bring that hunk of rubber over. He didn't have time to come over, so he told me to run in the house and grab a cup of water and a box of baking soda. Long story short, it did the same job, and did it pretty darn quick. I was back on my way in no time.

In God's scheme of things, he doesn't use us because we are invaluable. He doesn't use us because we are irreplacable. Rather, he uses us so that we may grow and learn, and eventually shape ourselves to be more like him. It's easy to get caught up thinking that without us, God's plans are stymied. If I wasn't here, J5 would fall apart. If I wasn't here, the pastor wouldn't be kept in check, or the chidren wouldn't be taught properly, or the... whatever.

But the truth is, God will take any tool and make it shine, as long as it is willing to do His will. Just like my dad's garage, God has a million tools to choose from. And God will use each and every one of us to help His great project. But, He can only use us if we acquiesce that He is the mechanic, that He is truly in charge. When we start getting to thinking that we are irreplacable, that is when we get replaced.

Bottom line is this: You are special because God loves you and created you. What you do is nothing other than what you were created for. Your works, your deeds, your actions, these don't make you better or worse than any other person that God created. God isn't looking for the prettiest tool, or the most unique tool (to Him all of His tools have beauty and uniqueness). He is looking for the most willing tool, the one that will do the job asked of Him. So when God reaches for you, are you willing to do it on His terms, and create Heaven on earth, or are you going to be replaced by baking soda and a cup of water? The choice is yours.

God bless!

Wayne